How to grow bamboo: growing conditions, planting, maintenance

How to grow bamboo: growing conditions, planting, maintenance

How to grow bamboo: phyllostachys nigra
Bamboo is undoubtedly one of my favourite plants. I almost always use it in gardens I create.

Bamboo has striking presence. It can be used as a specimen plant – a star in the border, like this phyllostachys nigra – or as a wonderful screen.

Learning how to grow bamboo is pretty straightforward. I’ll take you through the important points in this article.

What is bamboo?

Bamboo belongs to the grass family (Poaceae). Species of Bamboo are native to most continents, except Europe. Most of today’s cultivated species originate from China, Japan or South and Central America.

Many of these species hail from mountainous regions or lowland plains of Asia where, in both cases, winter temperatures can drop as low as -25 to -30 degree Celsius (-15 to -20 degrees Fahrenheit). The consequent hardiness of these bamboos makes them ideal plants for the temperate regions of Europe and North America.

In addition, there are a number of tropical species of bamboo which originate from Africa, Australia and tropical parts of Asia. These require frost free conditions to survive in home gardens, but they are often amongst the most spectacular specimens you will find.

What are the main different types of bamboo?

The principal distinction among different types of bamboo relates to the plants’ root systems.

This is really important for home gardeners, because it can make the difference between selecting a species that suits your situation perfectly and one that takes over you garden (and your neighbour’s as well.)

Put simply, most bamboos either have a running root system (technically called a leptomorph system) or a clumping (or pachymorph) root system.

To explain the difference, it helps to understand some of the botany. Bamboo root systems comprise rhizomes and roots.

Botanically, rhizomes are underground stems. This means that like above ground stems they have nodes, which are the parts of the stem from which new shoots emerge.

In bamboo, the difference between running and clumping forms arises as a result of the size of the space between the nodes on the rhizome (the internodes).

Clumping forms have short internodes, which means that new culms are produced close to each other. Running forms have much longer internodes. The rhizome stretches out and may reach lengths equivalent to the height of an above ground culm, with new individual shoots growing up from any of the nodes along its length.

Whilst the tendency of each form to run or clump can be a bit variable according to the particular conditions a plant is grown in, this distinction is one that it will always pay to have in mind when selecting bamboo for your garden.

What growing conditions does Bamboo need?

The degree of sun or shade that an individual species requires or will tolerate, is always a function of that particular species. Likewise, a bamboo’s frost hardiness varies from species to species. You will therefore always need to check these factors in relation to any particular species you are interested in growing.
How to grow bamboo: himalaycalamus falconii

Nevertheless, there are some common features relating to bamboo growing conditions that should be mentioned here.

Firstly, it is worth noting that bamboos are tough plants and will tolerate a degree of neglect. Indeed, where space is an issue, their growth can be kept in check if they are fed sparingly after planting.

Related to this is the fact that bamboos can be planted in many different soil types. I recall no noticeable difference in the healthiness of two plants of the same species which I planted in two different parts of a garden where the soil type in each area was quite different – one was heavy clay, the other a nice open loam.

Interestingly, these were Phyllostachys bambusoides ‘Holochrysa’, which is a running species, and the specimen in the loam had a much greater tendency to run than the one in the clay. This seems to bear out the observation above about the impact of growing conditions on these characteristics.

Thirdly, whilst they need plentiful watering during the growing season (see below), bamboos will not generally tolerate poorly drained soil. So in heavy soils it is important to incorporate gravel, grit or other material to open up the soil so as to prevent waterlogging.

How to plant bamboo

When planting bamboo, you will need to have regard to the eventual diameter of the plant and locate it where its natural growth will not interfere with existing features, such as paths or boundaries.

You will also need to decide whether you want to install some kind of barrier to restrict the spread of the plant. As indicated, this will be necessary in most home gardens for running species. But it may even be necessary clumping species if space is at a premium.

Purpose-made bamboo root barriers, like the one featured below, can be installed. These are usually available from bamboo retailers. But it is also possible to make use of other impenetrable material, like offcuts of paving or hard plastics, set vertically around the edge of the planting hole. These should be placed so that at least 2-3 inches (50-75cm) of the material is above ground.

A simpler way to ensure that you can keep your plant in check is to surround it with a shallow trench. Bamboos are not deep-rooted and their rhizomes extend outwards just below the soil surface. If you surround the plant with a trench around 18 inches deep (45cm), you can simply prune off any extending rhizomes as they enter the trench.

One grower I have heard of fills the trench with sand and tops it off with a light mulch, so that it is invisible. She then simply inspects the trench at the end of each growing season and deals with any infiltrations.

Bamboo is best planted in spring, so that it has a long growing season to settle in and take root.

You’ll notice that most bamboos you buy from nurseries are quite heavily pot bound. You may even need to cut the pot off with a knife. Because of this, you should give the rootball a good soaking before planting, ideally immersing it in water for at least twenty minutes, so that the water can seep right into the interior of the rootball.

Dig a hole twice the width of the rootball and one and half times the depth (I know this is not always possible, but do the best you can). Add drainage material if necessary and, if you want your plant to grow away well, add some manure, humus and organic fertiliser to the bottom of the planting hole and mix this in with the back fill.

In dry areas the plant can be set in a small depression. In areas of high rainfall, the plant can be slightly mounded.

Once planted, water in well and mulch with compost, well rotted manure or leaf mould.

How to grow bamboo: modern garden setting

How to maintain bamboo

Maintaining bamboo is not especially difficult, which is another great reason for using these magnificent plants.

Food and water

For the first two years, make sure that your plant is well watered. This is essential.

Bamboos can be greedy feeders, but they can also thrive quite happily with one decent feed in spring with an all purpose organic fertiliser. In essence, the more you feed a bamboo plant, the more it will grow. This is why you can limit its growth by limiting its nutrient intake.

Be aware that bamboos are intolerant of salt and therefore may react badly to seaweed based fertilisers.

Make sure that the area around your plant is always well mulched. This helps retain moisture and maintains an even temperature around the roots of the plant.

You’ll notice that the plant builds up its own mulch of leaf litter and shed culm sheaths in time. But you will do nothing but good to the plant if you add to this with organic mulches, like bark, wood chips and leaf mould.


The best way to keep you plant looking strong and healthy is to prune it to remove weak, damaged or old culms. Old culms can be identified because the are usually a dull colour. Cut the these culms at their base. The effect of this is to open up the plant, allowing more air and light into its center, which helps maintain the plant’s overall health.

You can also ease congestion of your mature plants by pruning off some of the side branches that emerge from the nodes of the culm.

A striking effect is obtained by removing all branches at low levels, enabling the beauty of the plant’s culms to be fully appreciated.

If you have culms that are leaning over significantly, you can sometimes right them by pruning a few nodes from the top and/or by pruning the main branches near the top of the culm on the side towards which it is leaning.

Buy Bamboo

About the Author Martin

  • Janet Civiero says:

    Hi there,
    I live in Toronto Canada, am I crazy to think Bamboo as a good coice to create some privacy as a hedge in 18ft long 2ft high planter? A stupid question, can bamboo be trimmed from the top if it gets too high, it would be on a second floor condo patio and so I have to think of the people above me also. Will it dry and die out in the cold&snow? will it regrow on it’s own? Do I cut it down every winter and protect the root system from the cold? If they do go grey and die when the cold hits would they survive if my planters were heated?
    Thank you very kindly for your time.
    Janet Civiero

    • Martin says:

      Hi Janet
      Many species of bamboo can survive down to -22C or more, although they would probably not be quite so hardy in planters. Bamboo can do well in planters so long as they are well fed and watered. But they may decline over time as their expanding root systems fill the pots. You don’t need to cut them down in winter unless the frost actually damages the culms.

      I’m not sure how cold it gets in Toronto – I know it’s pretty cold – but I would say that the more your protect the roots from very severe frost the better.

      And yes, you can prune bamboo at the top. Cut just above a node and you’ll do no harm. But don’t expect them to bush out or regrow from the pruning point like shrubs. Once a culm has grown, that’s it. All the bamboo’s energy goes into sending out the next shoots from the rhizome.

      Hope this helps.


  • Indi SUNDARAM says:

    Hi, I have used bamboo, the china gold variety to screen my backyard. I find that they have grow very lush and I’m very happy with the amount of screening that they have given over 3 yrs.
    I was wondering if I could cut the new shoots and plant them at some other parts of my back yard.
    Would you be able to advise me how I should cut the shoots from the existing plant.
    Thank you

    • Martin says:

      Hi Indi
      You need to dig down and extract part of the rhizome of the bamboo. You need to ensure that it has sufficient roots to sustain it and that it has some growing points from which new shoots will emerge.

      You also need to ensure that the existing plant is not damaged and weakened – i.e. the part you are taking is not too large compared with what is left.

      This can be be quite tough to do in some cases.

      Here is a short video showing you how:

  • hector mendez says:

    i leave in the philippines .my are ie mountainous and a creek goes thru it. bmboos are common in the ars of aurora province . i am about a milel away from the ocean nd i noticed bamboos grow near the river.i like to plant bamboos to sellthat mature. i read that after two years are tall and mature .please advice me how to plant

  • Tina says:

    Hi Martin

    I have a clumping type of bamboo in a half barrel. It’s been there for years and now fills the whole tub. If I can get it out (not a certainty as it weighs a ton!), would I be able to divide it? The barrel is about 2 feet in diameter so I was thinking of cutting into quarters?

    Any advice gratefully received!
    Many thanks.

    • Martin says:

      Hi Tina,
      At that size I’m sure you could divide it. You may need a sharp saw to cut it – assuming you can get it out of the tub.

      Just make sure there are enough roots and growing point in each section and then keep them well fed and watered in the first few weeks. Don’t drown them, but don’t lest them dry out

  • Tyler Groner says:

    Hello, I live in caldwell Idaho and I wanted to plant bamboo what is the best type to grow? Also do I water them every day? Also I want to grow it in a pot (regular plastic one) is that ok?
    P.S. Can I grow it indoors?

  • vasileios says:

    Hey there! I am from Greece and I would like to grow bamboo? Do you know if the location is an obstacle for growing bamboo since I read alot that mainly this plant is growing in ASIa 🙂


    • Martin says:

      Hi I guess it depends a bit on the climate where you are, Vasileois. If you get a hardy species it will cope with winter cold. If you experience extreme heat in summer, you’ll need to make sure it gets plenty of water. Check out your local area and see if you notice anybody growing bamboo. Try talking to local nursery owners too.

  • Tina says:

    How to deal with the bamboo if I plant it in the ground (it’s in buckets now) and it goes crazy and spreads?
    Is it possible to thin it out. If I plant in the ground, can i make a chicken wire lining?

    • Martin says:

      Hi Tina
      Your best bet is to use a barrier specifically designed for holding back bamboo rhizomes. If you use chicken wire, the rhizomes will almost certainly push through the gaps. First step though is to try to identify if it’s a running type of a clumping type. If it’s the latter you shouldn’t have too much trouble.

  • Ann Elene says:

    Hello and thank you for do much good info about the bamboo on your website. It is my favourite plant too and I planted it in my garden as a shield barrier, here in Aalesund, Norway. It has grown perfectly since I planted it, 7 yrs ago. And I have quite honestly never done anything to it after I got it in the soil.
    Now to my question: I am moving into a new house with a roof terrace. The terrace is approx 110 square meters. I want to create “rooms” using bamboo. To do this, I need to plant them in some sorts of pots. I’m thinking about 60/80 x 100/150. Something like that.
    From what I understand from your commenting above, you are saying that to make this work I need to feed them well, provide water often/regularly and even then- they will need to be removed after a couple of yrs or so, due to The growth and spread of its rootsystem? There is no other way?
    Appreciate you taking time to answer this:) Kind regards, Ann Elene

    • Martin says:

      Hi Ann Elene, I’m not saying they’ll necessarily need to be removed. It’s just that bamboo renews itself by sending up a steady supply of new culms from expanding rhizomes under ground. Old culms gradually get cut off from the roots that are supplying the nutrients and then die. When bamboo is in domestic cultivation (as opposed to growing wild) we keep the plant looking good by pruning out the dead culms. The problem with growing bamboo is containers is that in time they fill the container and there is no room for them to keep up this process of renewal. This can take a while depending on the type of bamboo and the size of the containers (potentially much more than just a couple of years).

      I guess you could keep them healthy by dividing the rhizomes every so often to ensure that there is still growing room in the pot. You’ll need to do this before the rhizomes expand so much that the plant is pot bound and can’t be removed.

      Anyway, the best option is to give it a go. There are so many variables – climatic conditions, location, species, growing media, container type – that you never know what is going to happen really.

      That’s one of the great pleasures of gardening, if you think about it.

      All I can do is give my best guess based on my experience. You may get years of trouble free growing, and the potential pleasure of being surrounded in your garden rooms by these wonderful plants definitely makes it worth trying, in my view.

      Best of luck

  • Nasrin Ahmed says:

    Hi I wanted to know the climatic conditions needed for the growth of bamboo tree

    • Martin says:

      There are various types Nasrin. Some can survive -22 degrees Celcius, some need tropical temperatures. You can usually find a species to suit your climate.

  • Brick says:

    Hey guys,
    I live in north Texas near amarillo and was thinking on a bamboo that was good to eat and good for building, and still look good while its growing, what would you recommend?

  • Eli says:

    I live in Pensacola Beach Florida is it possible to get bamboo from Alabama and plant it here?

  • boniface says:

    i like to use funiture of bamboo

  • Nu Nu Htay says:

    I really like bamboo plants because they are very useful both humans and animals.

  • Mary says:

    I as wondering if bamboo will survive in a coastal environment – NW Washington State. I would like to plant bamboo as a screen in a sand dune setting, where Maram Grass thrives (and Scotchbroom, when allowed).

    There is significant wind-driven rain and salt spray during winter storms.

    Thank you!

    • Martin says:

      Hi Mary. I don’t think so. Bamboo requires better quality soil and I think the foliage would suffer from the salt spray.

  • Jai Bains says:

    Hi Martin,

    I just wondered if you could please advize on position of planting my lovely phyllostachys nigra,
    I would like to position it next to a huge oak tree in the garden, which will afford me some privacy from the neighbors. I am in London, the soil is clay like, if that helps.
    I look forward to your input.
    Kind regards

    • Martin says:

      Worth a try Jai, If you can get it it between the oak roots. The clay soil will help because it is rich but keep it well watered in summer – not only will the clay dry out but the oak roots will suck a lot of moisture out of the soil.

  • kristoffer haugstad says:

    Can bamboo grow in western norway? In the city Bergen particular?

  • Vince says:

    Hi Martin, thanks for any help you can offer.
    I have bamboo like plants growing in my yard, that grow to 10 – 15 feet tall each year. It’s a clumping type & spreads very slowly, just the way I like it. 🙂
    I’m in Toronto Ontario & the temperature in winter here tends to be below freezing for 3 – 4 months.
    In past years I’ve cut the bamboo down (within 6 inches of the ground) each spring, & let it grow up again each summer.
    I’m wondering though, if I don’t cut it down, will the stalks continue to grow, or will they remain as they are now.
    If I do cut it down, is there a ‘best’ height to make the cuts at?


    • Martin says:

      Hi Vince – the culms won’t grow any taller. Once they reach their full height when they first grow up, that’s as tall as they get.

  • Shivansh says:

    I wanted to know that how do I plant a new bambai tree.

  • Monika says:

    Hi. I have planted a giant bamboo in a little bit of sandy soil. I live in Namibia in Africa. Namibia is a semi arid country with poor rainfall. The plant is struggling. What can I do to improve its growth? Please help I am in love with this plant

    • Martin says:

      Hi Monika. You need to enrich the soil as much as possible with compost, organic matter etc. Bamboo needs fairly moist, fertile conditions to do best

  • Tony says:

    Hi Martin,
    People are building bamboo houses in Bali and other places I’m wondering what kind of bamboo this is for we want to grow lots of it in Panama

  • Charles says:

    I Live in Uganda, East Africa. I want to grow bamboo on a large scale; over 200 acres of a hilly topography with seasonal rains and dry conditions. pine trees grow well in this area. what spiece should i grow and how can i go about it?

  • Donna Holloway says:

    How long it will take for one bamboo to grow? How many months?

    • Martin says:

      Depends on the species and the growing conditions. Most bamboo will put up a few new culms each growing season.

  • samone Martin says:

    Hi, I have just bought some plants that say they are Tiger Bamboo. Wondering if they will do ok in mostly full sun. The soil has some gravel and rocks through it. I was going to mix in some soil mix when i plant. The temperature varies from up to 44 deg C to around zero in winter..
    The plants are wilted and not happy in their pots i got them from the shop in so assuming they need to be planted soon than later..
    thanks Samone..

  • Lawrence says:

    Hi Martin,
    This answers a lot of questions but there is still one very lazy side of me that wants to plant timber bamboo over a heavy clay soil in Mississippi by moving the thick layer of woodchips I have over my lawn and then “planting” the rhizomes in a bag of well draining topsoil laid on top of the clay subsoil and mounded over with woodchips?

    • Martin says:

      Hi Lawrence, with a big enough bag of topsoil, it might okay. Give it a try. You’ll probably need to feed them more than if they were in a typical rich natural topsoil. But I think I’d experiment with it if I were you.

  • Carolina Brockman says:

    I want to grow Bamboo in large pot’s close to the ocean,for a screen to block the neighbors…I live in Cancun Mexico…It is a roof garden with a lot of wind.I grow palms and a large amount of cactus very nicely…The plams are about 6 feet tall and I need more privacy,i do get a little bit of a salt spray…What kind can I grow,i need them to be about 5 feet tall or more…Thank you for your helpCarolina

    • Martin says:

      Hi Carolina
      The foliage of a lot of bamboo species will be affected by salt spray. I’ve read that some hardier species can do ok, e.g. Bambusa textilis var. gracilis and some Dendrocalamus species. But I suggest you talk to a local supplier.

  • Pilar says:

    I have beautiful bamboos for privacy in my backyard, the home owners association is forcing me to cut them periodically to keep them a maximum high of 8 feet.
    Im worry this can damage the plant or most likely will make it expand to the Neighbord since Im restraining its high.
    What can I use on my defense to keep them in its natural high?
    They want me to treat bamboos as bushes and edges.

    • Martin says:

      Hi Pilar
      I guess you could use the argument that bamboo are not like trees. Each culm does not grow any larger once it has reached its full height. I’d also question what harm they say is occurring as a result of them being over 8 feet tall. If it’s not interfering with anybody else’s rights of enjoyment in the property, then what’s the problem?

  • Aloha…I plan to purchase a black, a purple and a blue packet of bamboo seeds to grow in plastic lightweight pots on my patio. Do you know if these 3 are the CLUMPING type? I don’t want to take a chance on running all over the condo below and to the side of me; neighbors wouldn’t like that. Thanks, Diana
    Pearl City HI 96782

    • Martin says:

      Hi Diana you’d need to know the latin name of the species. Then you could look up whether it is a clumping or running variety

  • Erica Badsey says:

    Hi Martin,
    I wonder if you could give me some advice. We live on the Natal South Coast, South Africa very close to the sea. We have bamboo growing at the back of our house which was planted years ago as a screen to give a bit of privacy from the block of flats behind us. In the 10 years that we have been in this house the bamboo has not spread, I have never given it any fertilizer, just watered the clumps in the dry season. We now need to get a bit more privacy, what can I do to make the existing bamboo grow thicker and spread. Do you recommend getting some new plants to fill the gaps . I tried a few years ago to cut a couple of the shoots but had no success in getting them to grow. Any advice would be most welcome.

    • Martin says:

      Hi Erica
      It sounds like adding some new plants to fill the gaps would be the most effective solution. One of the beauties of bamboo is the instant screen effect. If you can get the same species as you already have then that would probably be safest because you’ve already got the evidence of how that species behaves in your conditions (i.r.not running wild).

  • Aziz says:

    Hi Mr Martin;
    I am from Afghanistan, and I would like to plant bamboo in Afghanistan. My ask is that, is it possible to grow this plant in Afghanistan Agro climate. or is there any variety to work on that in Afghanistan.

  • Johnnie says:

    Hi Martin,

    I was wondering if running bamboo has the strength to lift pavers. I am entertaining the thought of planting the bamboo close to a paver patio that I am currently building and just want to make sure it does not push the pavers up.

    Thank you

  • Hi Martin , I have always Love bamboo, and recently someone gave me a bamboo plant. How do I find out what kind it is and how to care for it? Your help will be greatly appreciated. Thank You

  • Shana says:

    I have my bamboo in flower pots and if they get bigger than what they are now can i plant them in a flower pot? I was just wondering.thanks

  • Lynn Ashton-Cumine says:

    Hi. I have 2 bamboo plants in Terracotta pots. I live in Cyprus where they are in hot sun during the summer. I water them a lot but the leaves are not green but more brown? Any advice please? I can always post photo’s? Thanks Lynn

    • Martin says:

      Hi Lynn – Bamboo is a heavy feeder. Make sure you given them a good feed regularly. This is especially important since they are in pots

  • Justin says:

    Hi there,

    I live in the UK and I have my bamboo in large wide planters since I have them on my terrace to provide privacy and don’t have the luxury of grass/soil.

    I have a few questions as I love my bamboo but I am truly struggling:

    I recently had an issue with an aphid infestation and I went on a massive pruning spree in an attempt to get rid of them. But I fear some may still live – they killed a lot of my bamboo. What would you recommend as good ways to control this? I bought some ladybirds but I think most of them have flown away now.

    The area I live in seems to pick up a lot of wind – one side of the plant is very light brown but the other (inside facing away from the wind) is greener. Any suggestions on this? Can bamboo survive strong winds?

    Once you prune the bamboo does it not re-grow like shrubs?

    Thanks in advance!

    • Martin says:

      Hi Justin
      I tend to pick aphids off and squash them between my fingers and/or blast them with a hose. Constant wind can damage bamboo leaves in the way you describe. I’m not sure what the answer might be, unless you try screening them off – which kind of makes no sense, since you probably planted the bamboo to act as a screen in the first place.

      Bamboo doesn’t react to pruning like shrubs. Bamboo culms only have one growing point (or meristem) – the top – and once they have reached full height that is it. You can reduce the height of the culms, but that won’t induce extra growth on the culm. Shrubs and many perennials have growing points at their leaf axils. So if you prune above a bud, it will induce growth at that point.

      Pruning bamboo involves:

      • reducing height, if that’s what you want to do
      • removing side shoots, especially at the bottom of the culms, to reveal the beauty of the culms themselves, or
      • cutting out dead or wear culms at the bottom. This helps thin out the plants and lets air in – which could help with the aphid issues
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